After a two-week firestorm of controversy on the question of religious institutions that are not churches providing contraceptives with no copayment, the Obama administration changed the final rule in several respects. Here they are, in a nutshell:
- Institutions which are affiliated with a church such as Catholic hospitals, universities, and the like will not have to include birth control in the health insurance they provide to employees.
- Employees of those institutions will have access to contraceptives without a copayment because the insurer will cover it with no copayments separately. This means the insurer will reach out to women to offer free contraceptives outside of any relationship with their employer.
- For religious employers who use insurance companies, this will be the final rule and women will have access to contraceptives without copayments beginning August 1, 2012.
And with that, heads exploded from here to Rome. The video above is an interview Catholic League's Bill Donohue did on Friday's Megyn Kelly show, after the announcement of the change in the rule. You really must listen to him rant on and on, threatening that President Obama "will pay for this," and alleging that it really is a secret plot to force the Catholic Church to pay for abortions. And of course, all of his false claims went unchallenged.
But back to the issue at hand. The goal was to make contraceptives available to women without a copayment. This satisfies that goal, because insurers will simply take care of the cost without including contraception coverage in the plan these institutions adopt. It is far less expensive for them to provide full coverage for birth control than it is for them to provide maternity coverage and well baby care for all of those babies that would come into the world as a result of not having any contraceptives available. To that end, the decision was a complete end-run around the bishops' plan to erode support for the ACA by making a big deal out of this rule.
From the President's remarks on Friday:
Today, we've reached a decision on how to move forward. Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services — no matter where they work. So that core principle remains. But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.
The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly. Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they'll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.
There are, obviously, two strategies in play here. On the legal and moral side, removing religious charities as middleme`n takes away the claim that the government was impinging on religious liberties. Since it seemed nearly impossible for the actual facts to be discussed rationally on news shows, the truth was being buried in a sea of cries over "big government telling churches what to do." For examples, have a look at the MSNBC coverage, where the stories were told every day through the frame of Catholic bishops. From Chris Matthews to Lawrence O'Donnell, there wasn't a lot of accuracy in what they were saying. Rachel Maddow got it right, but also got no credit.
Beyond that, there is also the political calculation. Women's reproductive health is a winning issue for the President despite the cries and whimpers of the Catholic Church, and by removing their objections, all of those far-right Republican candidates are now just flatly against women. Marco Rubio wants all employers to have the right to object so that all women, not just religious ones would be left out in the cold while the old men still get to fill their sexual enhancement prescriptions with minimal copayments. Rick Santorum agrees, as do the Catholic Bishops. Color me unsurprised.
On the other side, Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Health Association have both come out in support of this policy. Greg Sargent notes that the only remaining wedge issue is the one Democrats can now use against Republicans, especially after they spent the better part of two weeks screaming about how women shouldn't have access to birth control.
I actually see this as a better way to approach the issue than forcing employers to come to some sort of "compromise" over it, and certainly better for women overall because it takes their employer out of the process entirely. Others have lingering concerns. Digby is concerned that because the bishops, et al won't be satisfied with this (see video above for example), it was a mistake to compromise. But then again, is this a compromise as much as it is an end run around their obstruction? They can fume all day long but that won't mean they're going to get anywhere. If they're out of play on the board, how exactly do they make a difference? Digby quotes Lindsay Beyerstein, who asks this:
If this compromise shuts up the bishops and smooths the way for free birth control, it's worth doing. In the grand scheme of things, it's not very much money. As the employee of secular organizations, I'm okay with subsidizing somebody else's birth control. It's not fair, but unlike the bishops, I'm a pragmatist. The most important thing is getting birth control to people who need it.
But if the bishops won't accept this deal, Obama should stop trying to accommodate them. Respect for religious freedom does not include paying solemn lip service to the contraception cooties.
The bishops don't need to accept this deal. It's done, out of their hands. It wasn't offered as something for them to approve. It was offered as the final cut, and if they want to keep complaining and pulling their puppet-politicians' strings, let them. It just erodes support for them with women and many independents who agree with the idea of providing affordable (free) access to birth control.
I mean, is anyone going to be swayed by Bill Donohue's sputters about this being a secret plot to force the Church to pay for abortions? Really?